In some ways, The Monuments Men makes perfect sense for a George Clooney project: it’s got a great story of triumph and morality. But on the other hand, it kind feels like Clooney was watching Inglorious Basterds and thought, “You know what? My buddy Brad looks pretty good in that mustache. I should make a Nazi movie.” And make a Nazi movie he did. With a true all-star cast — Clooney is joined on-screen by Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett — he co-writes, directs and acts in The Monuments Men.
Based on a true story, The Monuments Men focuses on a small band of Allied soldiers during World War II who weren’t really soldiers at all. They were, among other things, architects, museum curators, and art historians. Their task was to locate and recover all of the artwork and “culturally significant” items that the Nazis were seizing as they moved across Europe. Of seemingly special importance are the Ghent altar piece and Michelangelo’s “Madonna and Child.” Along the way Damon’s character, Lt. James Granger, finds that the curator of a museum in Paris (portrayed by Blanchett) knows more than she’s letting on about the pieces that were removed from her museum.
Clearly the story of The Monuments Men is a noble one that deserved to be told and kudos to Clooney for trying to do just that. Unfortunately, the story gets muddied and heavily fictionalized — sorry, dramatized, for the big screen. Likewise, the story that is told isn’t developed. Take for example, Blanchett’s character having a brother fighting in the resistance that’s mentioned but never explored. Instead they hopscotch through the story choosing to land only on some of the points of the story, offering preference to the “clever” and the “entertaining.” The Monuments Men is predictable and uninspiring, trying too hard to be important and sympathetic.